XXX: The Return of Xander Cage

“I don’t really know that there’s a whole lot to say about this one. The Fast Franchise has given Vin Diesel enough Hollywood clout that he can attempt to revive his other baby franchise, so he did. I so would have wanted this movie ten years ago. Now? Eh.

There were some cool action sequences, of course. I’d forgotten what made XXX stand out was his penchant for extreme sports, so that shook things up a bit. And Xander is louder and snarkier than Dom Toretto, but just similar enough that it was a little jarring anytime Vin tried to mouth off. Oh and the other big strike against the movie is how predictable it was, but you prolly saw that coming too.

One solid addition in this movie was the ladies. Ruby Rose and Deepika Padukone were righteously bad ass (God, I wanna be Ruby Rose in this movie so bad.) They were cool to watch, and I found them far more interesting than Vin’s Xander. Also getting points is Nina Dobrev for going nerd as the awkward Q-esque character. We haven’t seen that side of her, and I liked it. It helped balance out the film a bit more, and give it something else to stand out.

So yeah if action is your thing, (we know it’s mine) then sure, it’s a fine way to spend two hours. If it’s not, don’t bother. Stick to the Fast Films instead.

XXX: The Return of Xander Cage – \m/ \m/ \n”

World’s Greatest Dad

“A long time ago, a friend told me about this movie. They described it as being a far more depressing movie than you’d expect from the title and the presence of Robin Williams, that it involved suicide and other heavy themes. I think this conversation may have happened before Williams’ death (Side bar: I refuse to say that he committed suicide, I prefer to say he died from depression. I feel it’s an important semantic difference that spotlights mental illness in hopes of bringing about a better understanding of it) but either way those are themes that always draw me to a film. I was intrigued.

So here’s what the story actually is. Williams is a failed writer and single father to one jerk of a teenage boy (as most teenage boys tend to be). The son (Daryl Sabara) accidentally dies from auto-erotic asphyxiation (maybe be careful about googling that term), and his devastated father covers it up as a suicide, including a note he composed himself. Now suddenly every enemy the son made is mourning his loss and touched by the poignant letter he left. Things get kinda outta hand from there.

Tonally, this is one of the weirdest movies I’ve ever seen. I guess I’d classify it as a dark dramedy? I almost felt icky watching it, just because the situation was so uncomfortable. Williams carried the film like the pro that he is, but I can see why this movie was sort of lost to obscurity. Except for the fact that I will eat up any movie that he’s in, I kinda feel like it should stay hidden. It’s not really one for the masses, but instead should be more like a merit badge to be able to say you’ve seen it. A very low level badge, but something reserved for the few.”

Camp X-Ray

“Usually once I deplete my DVD queue, the next step is to move on to the next show on Netflix that I hafta catch up. But while I have a list of those that I need to attack, I just didn’t feel like it yet. I hardly ever watch actual movies there, and I thought it might be worth digging into a few before committing to the next binge-athon. Maybe I just wanted to put off deciding what to watch next. I didn’t even know Netflix had this movie until shortly before I decided to watch it.

In this 2014 movie, Kristen Stewart plays a soldier stationed at Guantanamo Bay. I remember when this movie was first released (very limited, kinda under the radar), I was baffled at the casting. Stewart still wasn’t too removed from her Twilight days or her Huntsman affair, so it was tough to take her seriously. Somehow though, there was talk of longshot awards potential. It never materialized, and I forgot all about it. Then she did more of these small independent films and more people were talking about how good she was. It was Still Alice that finally made me realize that maybe she is a pretty good actress afterall, and therefore shouldn’t be judged on the mistakes of her youth.

That was half of the interest in wanting to see this right away. The second was the storyline. Ever since seeing The Stanford Prison Experiment a couple years back, which then lead to reading The Lucifer Effect, I’ve had an interest in the prison/prisoner dynamic. And there’s no greater prison than Gitmo.

The film focuses on Stewart’s relationship with one particular detainee (they make a point of emphasizing that the men in there are detainees, not perisoners). Even though she’s discouraged from any unnecessary conversation with the detainees, she forms a sort of friendship with one man who has spent the past 8 years locked up there.

I’m not completely sure what my thoughts are on the movie itself. I was completely drawn into the world (as previously mentioned, it’s something that interests me) and I get the message it was trying to convey, but I don’t think it’s one that’s gonna stay with me. The Stanford Prison experiment shook me to my core. This just made me say “”hmm””. Oh and it did make me more likely to give Stewart another chance in the future. So there’s that.”

The Craft

“As we hit the post awards release winter graveyard at the movies, I’ve gotta find other films to blog about. I’m not gonna force myself to go see crap that I’m not interested in, especially at the current prices. So assuming my blog posting stamina holds up this morning that I’m writing, I’ve got a small marathon’s worth of movies to write up.

We start with The Craft. It’s been on my VHS upgrade radar for a while, and a couple weeks ago, the BluRay went on sale at Best Buy. After clearing the rest of my new DVD queue, it was next. I’m sure you remember this one, the 1996 horror (more in genre than in thrills) starring Fairuza Balk, Robin Tunney, and Neve Campbell as high school outcasts who form a coven and engage in witchcraft.

When I was in sixth grade, this movie was everything to some people. Personally, I wasn’t allowed to watch it (even if it wasn’t explicitly banned, I knew mom and dad’s guidelines well enough to assume) so it would be a couple years until I did. But I do remember a certain group of girls who would add some goth accessories to their school uniform and walk around repeating some of the spells and chants. That trend didn’t end up following them to junior high the next year.

Actually my strongest memory of the movie isn’t even of the movie itself. It’s of when it won Best Fight at the MTV movie awards. More specifically it’s of David Spade and Hanson announcing the nominees. I’ve talked about my past Hanson obsession, yeah? Okay moving on.

This movie is so 90s, I love it! And to some extent it still kidna holds up. At least, there hasn’t really been anything else like it. Balk is still terrifying, and the power of the witches is still intoxicating. That era really was a golden age of cheesy horror, and The Craft should not get forgotten about. Maybe there’s a spell for that…”

The Founder

“I love Mickey D’s, always have. Growing up, it was usually considered a treat, something for minor special occassions. Once I was an “”adult”” and had access to it whenever I wanted, I kinda went nuts and ate lunch there 3x a week and gained 40 pounds. Even after I lost that weight and make much more effort to eat healthy, I still need an occasional french fry fix. There was a location on the way to one of my go to movie theaters in Boston, and it was a regular occurrence for me to pick up a Happy Meal to sneak in. Boy that would have been appropriate this time. Even now that I’ve sworn off most fast food, I can’t go more than a month without the Golden Arches. It’s just something that will forever hold a place in my heart, and after seeing this movie, it seems like that was intentional.

The Founder tells the story of Ray Kroc (Michael Keaton), the salesman who encountered the first revolutionary McDonald’s and set out to create a fast food empire. I’d vaguely known somewhere in the back of my head that the guy that established McDonald’s wasn’t a real McDonald, and I assumed (correctly, it would turn out) that he’d somehow screwed the mysterious mister(s) McDonald’s over. We follow Kroc as he courts the McDonald’s brothers (John Carroll Lynch and Nick Offerman) and convinces them to allow him to use their techniques and their name to get things rolling. Over time, their traditional values that they want to ground their restaurants in begin to clash with Kroc’s ambition and business ideas. You can guess where this is going.

The story was enthralling, and at times enraging. I always love discovering new true stories like this one, and it kept me on the edge of my seat. It also affirmed much of what I hate about the business mindset in this country, the idea that one should stop at nothing to maximize their own profits without regard to who it’s hurting in the process. I get that as the one who put it all together, Kroc was entitled to a certain level of profit and success, and that’s all good. The problem comes when you cross the line to pure greed. I was seething thru the last third of the movie, and felt powerless because it’s not that uncommon of a story.

Moving on from the anxiety caused by the storyline, the actors in this film were fantastic. This was an excellent showcase for Keaton, one that had initially garnered much deserved Oscar buzz, although it seems to have dropped from the conversation lately. I just love that an actor who has paid his dues for so long has in recent years been giving such prestigious roles (Birdman, Spotlight, etc), and while it might not happen yet, I assume Oscar gold is in his future at some point. However, the ones I was really behind here Lynch and Offerman. In his career, Lynch’s roles have always been either incredibly sympathetic or incredibly intimidating. This was the former to a whole new level. My heart broke everytime I saw his expression and spirits dampen. And then there was Offerman. I just finished watching all of Parks and Rec for the first time (tore thru it in like a week, yay funemployment!), so it made me extra happy seeing Ron Swanson driving a movie. It was one thing when Lynch often gave a look of defeat, but the few times that Swanson did were painful. I most sided with him throughout the film, and he always expressed exactly what I felt as I was watching. It still stings a bit.

The theater that I went to is right next to a Panda Express, so I planned to grab lunch there afterwards (yay receipt survey for free additional entree!). However, I figured that watching the movie would make me want to seek out the nearest Mickey D’s instead, which I was prepared to do. And yes, there were points where all I wanted was to chow down on those crunchy perfect fries. But with where things ended, let’s just say I was happy to go to Panda instead. I’m sure I’ll be back at Mickey D’s by month’s end anyways, but right now, it’s just too soon. I can’t stomach it quite yet.

The Founder – \m/ \m/ \m/ \m/”

Split

“Again stealing from a recent FB post (again I swear, I don’t check in every time I see a movie): If there’s anything I’ve learned in all my years of movie going, it’s that Shyamalan movies must be seen on opening night, lest you be spoilt!
Not counting Split, I’d only seen 2 Shyamalan movies unspoiled: The Village and The Visit, both of which I also insisted on seeing opening night. Hell, I even remember thinking it’d be okay to wait to see The Happening until Sun after its release, only to unintentionally overhear the plot twist on Sat (I think I told that anecdote when I wrote up The Visit). Besides, now that I’m starting a new job on Mon (oh yeah, I got a job! More on that later later, as in not in this post, but soon) I can more easily afford a full price ticket and it’d be best to get this week’s releases in early instead of saving something for discount Tuesdays. But I’m rambling now.

There was a meme going around the internet recently questioning what year it is. Basically with things like Pokemon and Jurassic Park being popular again, and a Clinton running for president, it felt like we’d taken a Delorean to the past and no one told us. For me, as soon as I saw the first trailer for Split, my add in to the meme was “”I’m excited for a Shyamalan movie?!”” This one stars James McAvoy as a many with disassociate identity disorder (more commonly referred to as multiple personalities) who abducts three teenage girls for some mysterious and nefarious purpose. What got me excited is that despite his slump, I still respect Shyamalan as a writer and director, and with The Visit, he was starting to get his groove back. Add in a plot that really interests me (when DID is done well, it’s fantastic) and the psychological thriller vibe that I can’t get enough of, shut up and take my money.

So of course, I loved it! I feel like maybe the whole auditorium wasn’t quite with me, esp for a couple of stretches towards the end (which is as much as I’ll say on the subject), but Rotten Tomatoes already certified the movie fresh, so I can’t be the only one. As with The Visit, scaling back to a smaller more intimate film was a very successful formula for Shyamalan, and I generally find that simpler horror films are better anyways. No, it wasn’t on the level of The Sixth Sense, but let’s face it, no other film will ever be again. There were some forgivable flaws here and there, but nothing that drastically took away from the film, especially the high level of suspense.

Now while M Night did his job well, the MVP of this movie is James McAvoy. Without thinking too hard about it, this could be his career best performance, or it’s at least his showiest one. The key to playing multiple characters is to be able to distinguish them, and there was never any question as to which personality was in command at any given time. Even when the switches weren’t aided by costume changes, it was still clear from his voice and physicality who we were talking to. We only got a fraction of the 23 personalities in his head, and while from a storyline stand point I get that it makes sense to keep it simple, I would have loved to see more. Everytime we met someone new I got so excited to see what he’d bring.

Yeah so I call this movie a success. Shyamalan has figured out how to be a great filmmaker again and McAvoy gave the performance of a lifetime. What more could you ask for?

Split – \m/ \m/ \m/ \m/”

Live by Night

“I had that same crisis about whether or not to see a movie this week with Live By Night. Before the movie was released, there was some awards speculation. But then once it had its qualification release, it nonchalantly dropped from the conversation. Presumably it wasn’t as good as some had predicted. However, as a Boston girl at heart, I feel loyalty to the Batfleck. I just didn’t feel like seeing this, and was wrestling over the ten bucks it would cost me between admission and parking. I even skipped the showtime I intended to go to, and decided to wait for the next one. The beauty of discount Tuesdays at the nearby Cinemark is that I don’t hafta be picky about showtimes. The downside is that if I do let the day pass, then I’ve got some priority decisions to make. Such is my life.

I should have known to trust Ben. Yes he’s made some questionable choices as an actor, and it still kinda breaks my heart that after taking a decade to rebuild his rep, he jeopardized it all by donning a cape and tights earlier this year, but as a director, he’s been solid. This time he pulls triple duty as actor/director/writer of yet another Dennis Lehane story (though only partly set in New England) about a gangster in the prohibition era. Basically, Ben wanted to play some approximation to The Godfather.

Live By Night certainly isn’t up to the caliber of The Godfather, or even to the caliber of Affleck’s previous directorial efforts, but it was still entertaining, which is what matters (especially for a 6 dollar ticket). It had enough hints and homages to Coppola’s masterwork that I felt compelled to watch it when I came home. On its own, it wasn’t anything too impactful. Kinda predictable story in a world we’ve seen before, even if the location is new. Afleck is no Brando or Pacino, but he does alright.

For the escape that going to the movies provides, you could do worse. Lord knows in the middle of Oscar season you could do much better, but this movie was far preferable to the usual crap that’s dumped in the theaters in January. Just don’t expect it to join the pantheon of great gangster movies, or even great Boston(ish) movies.

Live by Night – \m/ \m/ \m/”

A Monster Calls

“Signs my movie obsession is a problem: the feeling when I’m walking up to the theater and wondering what I’m doing. Do I really wanna see this? Why did I make this choice? Is it really worth the money I just spent? But I can’t turn around because I already Fandango-ed my ticket. That feeling comes up way more often than it should. Thankfully, this was one of those times where that turned around and afterwards I was happy with my life choices. And happy that Panda Express was next door.

In this movie, a young boy is dealing with the looming loss of his terminally ill mother (Felicity Jones), the one person he connects with in a world full of bullies and abandonment. To help him cope, a large arboreal monster (voiced by Liam Neeson) begins visiting the child, telling him allegorical stories that teach him what he needs to get thru this period. Yeah, it’s heavy, not exactly one to lift your spirits, but there was this sort of macabre beauty to it.

The key to all of this was the stories the monster tells, for two reasons. One is that the animation for those (the rest of the film was live action) was stunning. They were more of an old school style, and looked like watercolors, something we haven’t seen on the big screen in ages. But more importantly than the visuals, the stories portrayed humans as murky individuals, not black and white when it comes to their motives. There is both good and bad in everyone, and someone who is mostly good can do bad things and vice versa. It was something that the child needed to be taught, and frankly, something that all of us need to remember as well.

I’ve noticed that in a lot of my posts, I end with saying who should see the movie. I’ve never been one for blanket recommendations, but it’s gotten much more specific lately. This one is no different. I feel that this movie is appropriate for anyone who is dealing with or anticipating loss, and would be particularly valuable for children around the same age as the boy. The biggest lesson of the film is that it’s okay to feel what you’re feeling, and that’s one that’s not taught often enough.

A Monster Calls – \m/ \m/ \m/ \n”

20th Century Women

“Ah yes, the time of the year where I feel compelled to see a movie if there’s even a hint of an Oscar possibility. In this case, there’s Annette Bening in the best actress race and a few other longshot possibilities. However as some of the precursor awards have been falling into place, Bening’s chances have started slipping. Did I really wanna go see this still? There’s one thing that convinced me, which is that it was written and directed by Mike Mills. A few years ago, he was the writer/director behind Beginners, a film that still fills me with warm fuzzies to think about how moving and beautiful it is.

Beginners was written about Mills’ relationship with his father. 20th Century Women is about his mother. Bening’s Dorothea is a single mother in the 70’s trying to raise a teenage boy. She enlists her tenants a freespirited photographer (Greta Gerwig) and aimless contractor (Billy Crudup) as well as her son’s best friend (Elle Fanning) in helping her son Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann) grow up to be a good man. It sounds kinda hokey, thus my initial hesitation, but I found it rather enjoyable.

Once again Mills succeeds at painting a simple picture that still draws you in. Normally it bothers me when there isn’t much of a thru-story, but the characters were so strong and fully realized that I was perfectly content to just watch them play out their lives.

I hope that Bening stays in the Best Actress race. I think however that this point, the nomination is the victory (though if she does get it, then we can assess where I see her for the win). She had such poise and elegance and complete vulnerability. It was a beautiful portrait and Mike Mills’ mother should be proud of the character that she inspired. I also hafta say that I really liked Greta Gerwig. I usually find her extreme whimsy to be kinda annoying, but it suited her character here and worked well as a supporting character.

So even if this doesn’t end up being a contender this year, I don’t regret seeing the movie. I enjoyed it far more than I expected, and I really do hope that it gets some recognition this season.

20th Century Women – \m/ \m/ \m/”

Hidden Figures

“Where do I start with this one? Do I talk about how as a woman in tech, this movie is very important to me personally? What about how I really want my 12 year old little cousin to see this, even if she’s not particularly interested in math or science? There’s also the conversation I recently had with a friend about different things that just make sense to us (she can parallel park without effort and I always knew what count we were on in dance class), which is relevant to the characters in the film. Or I could just start by emphasizing how important it is that this story is getting an audience. Maybe I should just get right into it.

Hidden Figures tells the true and previously overlooked story of three African American women working at NASA in the 60s: Katherine G. Johnson (Taraji P. Henson) was a mathematician who helped calculate the landing procedure for John Glenn’s orbit around the earth, Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) taught herself and her colleagues computer programming in anticipation of the shifts in technology, and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe) who fought to attend classes in hopes of becoming an engineer. Together these women worked together to overcome racial prejudice and sexism to advance in their workplace. Without them and their colleagues, the space program may never have had the success that it did.

I loved every minute of it. The story was compelling and inspirational. Seeing the discrimination these ladies faced broke my heart, but the positive attitude they maintained was so moving (I didn’t wanna reuse inspiring, but that’s really it). The performances were riveting. It was just an overall uplifting and important film. I want every little girl to see this movie and feel like she can be or do anything.

Hidden Figures – \m/ \m/ \m/ \m/”